Under-siege Centrelink bolsters resources

Centrelink changes proof of identity rules and extends call centre hours to cope with demand.

call centre

As Services Australia Minister Stuart Robert apologised for claiming hackers had been responsible for the MyGov crash earlier this week, extra resources are being rushed in to shore up the service.

The growing number of newly unemployed Australians combined with Centrelink customers seeking information about stimulus strategy payments has been putting massive pressure on online and shopfront services.

Long lines had formed outside Centrelink offices earlier in the week and the online portal had crashed on consecutive days, despite government assurances that the reinforced systems were working.

The capacity of the MyGov website has been boosted from 55,000 to 150,000 concurrent users, but was still frustrating many welfare applicants.

Mr Robert has admitted there was no evidence there had been a cyber attack on the website, saying: “My bad not realising the sheer scale of the decision on Sunday night by the national leaders. I probably should have waited for the investigation before jumping the gun,” he told 2GB radio.

He said late yesterday that myGov had been upgraded from around 6000 concurrent users last week to 40,000 over the weekend to 150,000 yesterday. "We’re adding more capacity where we can..." he said. "Today [Wednesday], we have facilitated 2.6 million logins to myGov. We will continue to run the myGov service 24/7 and progressively increase its capacity as required, as we have over recent days and months."

He said that Services Australia had redeployed more than 1500 staff from within the department to assist in taking calls and processing claims and that it was boosting its workforce by 5000 people, although there would be fewer workers at  centres because of social distancing requirements.

In addition, Services Australia had launched an online ‘intent to claim’ function through myGov, making it much easier and quicker to register for financial support, eliminating the need to call or go into a Services Australia service centre to get the claim process under way.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston outlined the change saying: “You're no longer required to attend a Centrelink site to provide proof of identity. Changes [are in] place which require you to only provide proof of identity over the phone."

To access the online intent to claim, you just need a myGov account linked to Medicare or Australian Taxation Office services.

A Services Australia press release said: "Once you’ve linked either of these services, you will see a prompt on your myGov welcome page to register your intention to claim.

"Once someone lodges an intent to claim through myGov, Services Australia will contact them as soon as possible to talk through the next steps. For new customers this will include support setting up a Customer Reference Number (CRN).

"People no longer have to provide separation certificates to claim JobSeeker Payment."

Call centre hours would be extended to 7am to 10pm from Monday to Friday and from 10am to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Late last year, about 700,000 Australians were receiving the Jobseeker payment via Centrelink. That number is expected to increase to up to 1.7 million people in coming weeks with forecasts the jobless rate could reach 15 per cent.

A senior Federal Reserve executive has warned that unemployment in the US could hit 30 per cent – worse than during the Great Depression and three times the level seen during the GFC.

Senator Ruston also confirmed the $550 coronavirus supplement would be extended to Youth Allowance students and apprentices. While this was primarily directed at young people, she said it might also assist “older people coming back into the workforce, who would like to do some study”.

Labor social services spokeswoman Linda Burney has urged the government to set up a dedicated Centrelink hotline to help people navigate the welfare system.

“They are scared, they are confused and they are stressed because of drastic changes to their financial situation,” she told ABC radio.

“Get the payments out, cut the red tape and worry about the paperwork later. People need help now.”

Have you had cause to attempt to contact Centrelink in recent days? Were you successful?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    26th Mar 2020
    It would have been far more efficient if employers gave information of staff affected to Centrelink rather than leave it up to the individuals. Lining up seems to go against all the edicts of social distancing. Maybe that is too simple.
    26th Mar 2020
    What employer details?
    Retiring Well
    26th Mar 2020
    You can apply online so no need to line up. You just register your intention to claim.

    However if you try and complete the Jobseeker online application it quickly becomes evident that it is based on the normal Jobseeker criteria. I have been suggesting to please just to register their intent and hopefully it will be a simpler process.
    26th Mar 2020
    The Income test is remaining, the asset test is being abolished and some waiting periods have been relaxed.
    26th Mar 2020
    Was just about to suggest this but you beat me to it.
    26th Mar 2020
    Wonder how many will try on what some did during/after the fires - apply several times.
    27th Mar 2020
    Retiring Well,
    It is all very well to say go on line and register your intent to claim IF the website is actually on line.
    Both my kids have been affected by this pandemic - one was lucky and managed to sign on the day before most others were put off work. No problems there.
    The other has been trying since Monday to 'Register to Claim' and the site keeps crashing /freezing EVERY time he clicks on the button. He has also phoned them every day [hoping he'll get through one way or other] - sitting on the phone 8+ hours, only to be cut off numerous times. It is very, very disheartening and frustrating.
    Crazy Horse
    26th Mar 2020
    This incompetent Government has slashed Centrelink staffing on purely ideological grounds to the point where the system already couldn’t cope with it’s normal traffic. It’s therefore the current crisis is no surprise.

    Here’s a plan. Fill all the empty desks at Centrelink offices.
    26th Mar 2020
    Here’s a Better plan, fill all the empty desks with over 55 year olds.
    26th Mar 2020
    Have to agree with both comments. My local CL office underwent an extensive (and I bet expensive) refit about 12 months ago. Were about 20 individual desks, all with computers, double screens, chairs, phones, etc. In the more than dozen times I had to go into their office, I NEVER saw more than 6-8 being used. Never. It seemed to be more a case of desk hopping - one day I would see a staff member at desk A, the next day she would be at desk D.
    And yes, from what I experienced, more seniors SHOULD be employed there. Maybe then there would be just a little bit of patience, a little bit of understanding, a little bit of compassion. When I was taking my elderly aunt in, I was appalled at how some of the staff spoke to her, as though she was a naughty little girl for forgetting to bring in some sort of paper. Twice I had to ask the staff member not to talk to my aunt that way. That she had a brain, and fully understood what was being said to her.
    27th Mar 2020
    Crazy Horse, The government outsourced 90% of Centrelink work to a private company - which is when most of the staffing was slashed, to make it look more profitable.
    Efficiency has gone out the door, staff morale is almost non existent and costs have gone through the roof.
    BUT, according to the government it is working better than ever before. Idiots!

    sunnyoz, Not trying to make light of the way they spoke to your aunt, you should go in with someone who is deaf. Like you found, it is as though that person is a jabbering idiot, doesn't understand English, shouldn't waste their time or, for that matter, even be alive.

    While I don't agree with the staff being abused, they are only doing a job - no matter how badly they are doing it. I can quite understand why people get frustrated with them.
    26th Mar 2020
    Three things the present government did to CentreLink, have made it next to useless. The problem now hangs like a dead albatross around its neck. The chickens are coming home to roost!

    (1) Cut staff year by year to the point CentreLink can hardly function.

    I went to CentreLink about 2 months ago, and I counted 5 staff on deck in a huge office. The waiting area was almost full of people waiting for attention. Every person being attended to, spent a minimum of 15-30 minutes in consultation. When my turn finally came after 1 hour, I spent five minutes to actually be told to make another visit in about three days or so and provide more forms and applications and a list of details I had no idea would be required. So the process had to repeat, causing inconvenience and more congestion.

    (2) Hand a government supported department over to private contractors.

    Imagine who was hired by these contractors to deal with the public. No further comment. Objective for the contractors: make as much profit as possible:- you know what that means.

    (3) The employees hardly had a clue about the base Act and Regulations. In fact I did not see one manual or reference explaining the rules and regulations under the Act.

    This means that complex and other problems had to be referred to a handful?, (Not sure how many staff were actual public service employees in Canberra) of employees in Canberra. Most people were advised once all documents were collected, they would be emailed to Canberra for a decision and would take two-three weeks minimum to be assessed. Another visit had to be arranged to hear and discuss the result.
    I say those who never dealt with Centrelink in the past will get a rude shock at how complicated CentreLink has become. I know many who gave up in disgust.

    All this to qualify for a part pension! Come on ScoMO, you instigated these conditions under your watch! Sorry you can no longer blame other parties.
    26th Mar 2020
    Spot on JoJozep They were running down Centrelink to justify privatising it just as they are/were intending to do with processing visa applications.
    How good is Scotty from Marketing?
    26th Mar 2020
    Spot on JoJozep They were running down Centrelink to justify privatising it just as they are/were intending to do with processing visa applications.
    How good is Scotty from Marketing?
    27th Mar 2020
    JoJozep, Many years ago - before Social Security and Commonwealth Employment amalgamated - I used to work with CE, Every desk had to have a manual on the Acts and Regulations on it [well in the drawer].
    Spot checks [someone standing behind you, usually out of sight]were done all the time to check that you were giving clients correct information
    Once a month meetings were held to report any problems and if your supervisior didn't think you were up to code with what he deemed you should know then you had to read the manual again :(
    You could get into serious trouble if your standards slipped below a certain level. A lot stricter then than they are now.
    26th Mar 2020
    At least it's some action...putting on extra staff.
    27th Mar 2020
    Karen, How long for? Who is going to train them? It is not a job you can just walk in and do.
    They certainly won't keep them after this is over
    26th Mar 2020
    Spot on all the above.C/Link was always a complete failure due to culling of the older staff. Time to go ScoMo.two strikes and your out.
    26th Mar 2020
    Scary thing is....if staff are being resourced so quickly, will they be adequately trained, know all the correct details? Even before this trying time, one of the problems I found was inconsistency with what different CL staff were telling me.
    26th Mar 2020
    So you have to register your intent to claim and they will get back to you. Yeah — I bet. I have never had a Centrelink official get back to me when promised and also, are people made aware that IF THEY DO it will be on an unregistered number with no caller ID. Many won’t answer it. I could go on for days with comments on Centrelink experiences.
    26th Mar 2020
    Easy fix. Everyone get a pension once reached pensionable age. It may be a bit lower than what is available now, however it will cut out all the problems as shown on these comments. Will they or will they not know what is going on as an employee of C/L.
    Your age comes up, paper work sent to you, you fill in and return--pension payment turn up.
    No asset tests, no ducking and diving by the applicant, no lawyers to milk the system. The pensioner can work a few days of the week, no paper work required. Great savings from the Minister, second in charge, any other free loader, no left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
    We could all live in Utopia can't we!!!!!!
    27th Mar 2020
    The only problem is the government will be putting EVERYONE getting 'welfare' [including age pensioners] onto the cashless debit card within the next 5 or so years [could be sooner].
    That means that someone else will tell you what you can or can not spend YOUR money on. And, surprise, surprise they get PAID up to $12000 PER CARD to fcuk up your life.
    So many people have been left homeless, in SEVERE debt because bills are not paid on time. Embarrassed because the card is refused at checkouts of the few supermarkets you can use it in - even though you KNOW there is money on it.
    And to top all that off - you get abused by other customers because, hey your on the welfare card, so you MUST be a druggie, alcoholic, gambler or a deadbeat parent! Take your choice!!!
    27th Mar 2020
    Good point jaycee 1,but it looks like this cashless welfare card is getting bad reports about how it works as you pointed out,the thing is will this Govt be able to pass this rubbish system through the senate and will they be in Govt long enough to achieve this rubbish system,i hope not, for all the people on welfare that don't deserve this rubbish.
    27th Mar 2020
    Good point jaycee 1,but it looks like this cashless welfare card is getting bad reports about how it works as you pointed out,the thing is will this Govt be able to pass this rubbish system through the senate and will they be in Govt long enough to achieve this rubbish system,i hope not, for all the people on welfare that don't deserve this rubbish.
    27th Mar 2020
    Let's get to the root of the problem! I know a little about how government departments should operate. Their No.1 objective is comply and fulfill the requirements stated in the ACT (changing of any clause in the Act requires an Amendment to the Act passed in both the lower and upper houses by a majority vote) and Regulations (requires a bill before parliament read and voted on by a simple majority yes vote in the lower house (Ministers and cabinet members) and reviewed and passed by the upper house (Senators of all parties). This is a legal requirement embodied in the Constitution.

    There is no provision in the Act that I know of that has transferred any powers or delegations to any private company staff, so CentreLink staff are there just to theoretically advise people what their entitlements are (Which they can't legally do to interpret the meaning of said Act and Regs.), so all they can do is point out the requirements under the Act and Regulations and supply people with a wheelbarrow load of forms and applications which they must complete in some cases in front of a JP or lawyer where Powers of Attorney are required and so forth.

    All these documents (on return visit) are then photocopied and the PDF's/emails are sent to a special address in Canberra. These are vetted by a number of people with appropriate delegations under the Act (eg.,they must be public servants, swear oaths of allegiance and honesty and have high ability in interpreting the meaning and intention of the Act and regulations, even more so than their politician direct masters. So no Centrelink staff can make these decisions at CentreLink offices unless they have the necessary legal powers under the Act, which they don't.

    It is possible to challenge some decisions where it can be proven the delegate administering the Act (usually in Canberra) didn't follow the correct procedure or was fair interpreting the Act. This is similar to lower court judgments that can be overturned by higher courts of appeal.
    To do this, you either need to know how Departments act and react, and above all the interpretation and intent of the relevant Act and Regulations. It takes years to become familiar with the intricacies of these Constitutional directives and guidelines. Rapidly changing staff cannot be acceptable if they lack this knowledge and experience.

    By privatizing the Centrelink local offices, the government is in no way responsible to pay these staff anything, the main contractor that supplies the service is supposed to maintain the same quality of service as previous public servants did, but where the ball game changes is that the objectives are totally different and the government can get away with the blame game. "It's not our fault a contractor/subcontractor has done the wrong thing, all we can is warn them not to do it again" is the attitude the government can adopt. That lets the Minister responsible off the hook!

    That's why you are all getting the service you voted for with this so called "efficiency drive". On the one hand, the government can squeeze out responsibility, pay a contractor to act as front man for the Minister (The CEO of the Contractor gets millions I believe), and the Contractor CEO does what big business knows best, employ the lowest paid staff and threaten them with dismissal if there is too much trouble ahead. The Minister of course, wouldn't want to rock the boat because he knows to get a new contractor, would require years of preparation and training. More than that, his Department may need to suddenly need to employ more staff and clash with other ministers like Finance and conservatives desperately trying to produce a budget surplus, mainly to fulfill an election promise. When will people realize to get a budget surplus simply means cutting services. Why do people complain when this happens? The government can't generate money from thin air, unless of course it prints more, than the value of our dollar makes it attractive as toilet paper. You get what you vote for!

    Look at the private contractor looking after our refugees. He is paid billions each year, with hardly a day going by without incident. Who is supervising the Contractor? You guessed it;- the Minister. That's another storey!

    Hope this post gives readers some insight into how departments are manipulated to produce a Ministerial outcome.
    ex PS
    31st Mar 2020
    Extremely well put and factual.
    Don't blame the staff, they have no faclity to act independantly. The government sets policy and amends the act in order to
    attain there goals.
    Privatization is not about gaining efficiencies, it is all about deflecting responsibility/blame away from Ministers and towards Private Enterprize.
    We always knew that something shonky was going to be tried upon hearing that " The Minister has shown a special interest in this project."
    We also knew that it was time to ensure that we knew exactly what it was that we were putting our signature to, and the implications if things went sour. A distinct possibility when Ministers went rogue and decided to get hands on.
    It was never the Minister trying to interfere, it was always an expendable, gullible staff member.

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